Ministry guitarist Mike Scaccia on Rigor Mortis, Psalm 69 and his friendship with Al Jourgensen
When you joined Ministry for that tour, were you involved in writing any of the music for The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste?
No. I came in on Psalm 69 with writing and tracking guitars and stuff. I'm on the live record, In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up. But I didn't write anything on that. I was told I inspired him but I believe I was off doing Rigor Mortis when they were doing that record. But I love that record.
What kinds of adjustments did you have to make, if any, from playing music as you did in Rigor Mortis to playing like you did for Ministry?
It was a lot of adjustment. The thing I was coming out of was this loud, aggressive, one guitar, punk/metal type thing attitude about Rigor Mortis. It's very intricate music. It's all about notes and precision, so it's a completely different style. When I came over to Ministry, Ministry was about sound and tone and weird time signatures at the time. So it threw me off, and I had to take a step back and learn how to count in certain ways I didn't do before. So there was a bit of an adjustment, but it did nothing but make me better.
Did you tour with Paul Barker and Bill Rieflin?
Yeah. I've toured with those guys a few times. Bill Rieflin is a brilliant drummer and brilliant musician all around. Plays every instrument. Paul Barker is a good musician and producer. It was different for me to play with those guys as far as rehearsal. But when we were writing together, they were completely the opposite of what I was.
I was a misfit maniac who hung out in very shady places, and that's why I think I hit it off great with Al. They were the kind of people, and I'm not putting this down, to be reading a book in a coffee shop, you know what I mean? I was the guy slamming whiskey in a biker bar up the street. So I got quite a few eyes rolled at me. But as far as the music goes, and the musicianship, hey man, I was always there for them, and I always felt like I gave them my best.
What was it like playing that second Lollapalooza tour, as opposed to playing your usual shows?
That was the first time I'd played to such a large audience. It was really cool. I had a great time on that tour and bonded with a lot of bands. It was just a giant party the whole tour. That was the first time I played in front of twenty or thirty thousand people a night. Between that tour and Beavis and Butt-Head selling Psalm 69, those were good years, man.
When you were writing Psalm 69, what kinds of ideas did you discuss in making that record?
We did several different things. Al brought me in because it was a different approach. We actually went in as a band to do that record. Before then, I believe Al and Paul would just write stuff. We went in as a band. We got a room and jammed. We would record stuff, or if somebody had a riff, they would bring it to the table. My job every night was taking the demos to Al for him to listen to. "Hey, what did you guys do today?" "Well, I got this, I got this and I got this."
I'll never forget: I must have brought him like ten songs a night, and I was so frustrated because they weren't turning out the way we wanted them to. One night, the very last song on the demo I was bringing in was a joke. It was Bill Rieflin telling me to play as fast as I can. That turned into "T.V. Song." That was one of the first tracks we came up with for Psalm 69. It was the B-side to "Jesus Built My Hotrod."
It was a crazy process, and if I remember right, we went in and did that record and probably spent I want to say eight months on it, and then we scrapped it and started over. I'm glad we did, because that's how Psalm 69 was created. You know the record label hated that record? They said it was going to be a flop, it wasn't going to do anything, the songs were horrible, they didn't get what we were doing. Why are these guitars in here? Why are these guitars so heavy? What's going on? What are you doing? Sure enough, the rest is history, and it became one of the most classic records ever recorded. It kicked off a couple of genres of music, you know?
If you really think about what Al was doing then, who else was really doing that? When he called me and said, "Dude, I want to bring in your guitars with my samples, my techno background. Let's create something new." And that's what it was about, creating a new sound. Which is what I'd already done with Rigor Mortis, so I was all about it. I'm a huge fan of the old Ministry stuff. I'm a huge fan of music in general, especially pop music. I'm sure a lot of my diehard fans don't want to hear that. I like country, too. So yeah, I thought it was cool. Who knew what it could do?
Of course when the record was done, I knew it was going to be a big record. I just didn't know it was going to touch so many people the way that it did. I think it could have been a bigger record myself. But it just happened that way. Outside of the one I just did with Al, it's definitely my favorite. I'm really happy with this new one. It's different like that. You know how Psalm 69, every song it went into, it was like a different little baby. This record reminds me of that. The last few records weren't like that to me. They were kind of straight up thrash. This one touches on different grounds, you know? I love that.
Is there anything you did consciously for Relapse that made it so different from the other recent records?
I didn't really play on the last couple of records. I did Houses of the Molé. I think I did a solo on Rio Grande Blood, but I was so fed up with the business, and I'd wanted out for a few years. I was starting a family stuff, so my head wasn't in it. What Al did was he brought in me and Casey Orr for a couple of weeks. We worked every day and came up with great stuff, I felt like. Then we left, and he brought in Tommy Victor and Tony Compos, two complete opposite people from two crazy, Texas maniacs. That created a whole different vibe, obviously. When Al mixed all that together, that's how this record came about.
Man, I love it. Each song is different in that sense because you've got a collaboration of me and Al and a collaboration of Tommy and Al, and me and Tommy are night and day. Even though we share the same passions, we're completely different guitar players. And I love Tommy's guitar playing. I was the one that got him in Ministry. It's in that sense that makes it so different.
Now you're working on a new Rigor Mortis record.
Yeah, we just started in [early February]. We got all our drum tracks done last night. For some dumb reason, we went and played a show at eleven thirty last night. But I'm starting on some guitar in a couple of hours. I am excited about this record, man, like no other Rigor Mortis record. We're obviously older and more mature, and our writing has gotten that way too. So we actually have a couple of slower type songs on here, more thrash songs on here.
It's still a straight up metal record, and we still write about our love for horror movies. But it's a new time and a new direction. It's not death metal because we don't have that grindcore vocal. It's going to be good, and I think for our diehard fans who have waited this long, they will be satisfied, and I think we will cover some new ground, too. It's got some old school metal vibe to it. And definitely crazy lead solos.
What kinds of guitars do you usually like to play?
I'm so glad you asked me that. The last interview I just did, the guy goes, "What do you not get asked enough about?" I said, "People never ask me about my guitars." I work for Gibson guitars. I am a clinician for Gibson, so they pay me to fly around the world and do clinics for them. I prefer Gibson guitars. I learned on those, and I got my first deal with them. So I'm kind of indebted to this company.
I love Les Pauls. My number one guitar is a 1957 Goldtop Standard. And it is my baby. I just had a Flying V made for me that is pretty sweet too. But I love Les Pauls, man. Les Paul, alone, is my idol. I just have this thing about Les Pauls. Like I say in my clinic, if it's got strings on it, I'm probably going to like it. But I'm prone to Gibson guitars, especially their acoustics.
I like the balance. I love the weight. I love fat necks, so I like the '50s ones. My idols played them. To me, it's the perfect stand-up guitar too, for some reason. I love SGs and Explorers, as well -- I learned on Explorers. That's probably what I'll be using on Ministry tours. But Les Pauls are more my Rigor Mortis thing. I like to mix it up. I collect them. And I don't collect them in the sense that I used to. You used to walk into my house and you would see seventy-five guitars. Now, I only have what I'm going to play. Which is quite a few.
Did you ever get to see Les Paul Fat Tuesdays or Iridium Jazz Club in New York that he played for years?
No, I missed him. I didn't get a chance to before he died. It's funny because when I come to New York this summer, I'm going to meet Lou Pallo, who was part of the Les Paul trio. One of the bus drivers for Gibson was one of Les Paul's dearest friends. They were friends for like fifty years. Every time I do an event or I'm around this guy, that's all I do is ask him about Les Paul stories. Unfortunately, I did not get to meet him but I will carry on the tradition of his guitars.
What was one of the best stories you heard about him?
My favorite is when he got divorced...I don't know if this is published or not, but it is a true story. In 1961, him and Mary Ford got divorced. It was in 1960, but it was finalized in 1961. But 1960 was the last year they made the Les Paul shape, the classic shape. The reason for that is that Mary Ford tried to take him to the cleaners, and he was worried she was going to take that guitar because she had threatened him. He went to Gibson and said, "I've got this shape I've been working on. What do you think of this, and we'll call this the Les Paul for seven years and just put my guitar out of commission for seven years, and we'll call this guitar the SG.
If you look on all those old SGs, it'll say "Les Paul Custom" on it. Well, that's why, because those were called "Les Pauls" from 1961 to 1967. That's why 1960 and 1968 are great years for Les Paul because they brought them back out in '68. The reason why is because the seven years was up, so Les Paul said it was okay to bring them back out. I thought that was cool. A lot of people don't know that, but it's definitely a true story. It's pretty awesome.
I heard this other story, and I probably shouldn't tell this, but I just think it's funny. If you think, man, Les Paul...who knows? We might not even be having this conversation right now if it wasn't for what he did for guitar and music in general -- multi-tracking and plenty of Echo Plexes he created. I was talking about Lou Pallo a second ago, and they were best friends. And every day Lou took Les Paul to lunch and Les Paul never once picked up the bill in fifty-five years. Never once. Lou always grabbed the bill.
The bus driver was telling me this story and I asked, "Well, didn't Lou kind of get bothered by that?" He was like, "No, that's the kind of person he is. But he said every once in a while Lou would pick up the bill and ask, 'How much is it?'" Lou would go, "It's a lot." He said, Les would shake his head and go, "Oh...okay." I just think stuff like that's cool. I know that sounds boring but I love that kind of stuff. It's just pretty funny.
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